An indigenous leader and protector
Alberto Curamil, 45, is an indigenous Mapuche in central Chile’s Araucanía region. He is a well-respected leader and spokesperson for the Alianza Territorial Mapuche and has dedicated his work to the protection of the region’s rivers and forests. Curamil has also helped the Mapuche recover their ancestral practices and preserve their native language, Mapudungun.
Building broad and diverse coalitions
Already a trusted leader for his defense of Araucanía’s forests from destructive logging, Curamil used the Mapuche’s traditional gatherings to bring people together and organize resistance to the hydroelectric projects. He invited non-Mapuche community members, environmental organizations, and academics, who traditionally did not participate in indigenous assemblies. Curamil knew that a united front was needed to stop these destructive projects, and together they formed a critical coalition.
Curamil’s multipronged strategy included street protests, marches, and road blockades, all of which raised the profile of the Mapuche and their fight to protect the rivers of Araucanía. Curamil also sought advice from academics, environmental professionals, and NGOs on the projects’ environmental and cultural impacts.
Additionally, Curamil launched a legal campaign against the hydropower projects. He partnered with a team of pro bono lawyers that had supported indigenous groups in Chile. Together, they mounted a legal challenge, showing that the Chilean government had violated Chilean law, which guarantees free, prior, and informed consent before advancing any development project.
In 2014, police arrested Curamil and two other Mapuche leaders and accused them of disorderly conduct and causing public unrest for organizing protests. Police beat Curamil while in custody, badly bruising his face. Police also attacked his pregnant wife.
Still, Curamil overcame persecution and violent attacks to bridge divides and unite Chileans to stop the hydroelectric projects and protect a sacred river. Because of his leadership, in May 2016, Chile’s Environmental Service Agency canceled the Alto Cautín hydro project, citing public opposition from the communities. Later that year, in December 2016, Chile’s Third Environmental Tribunal ruled that the Doña Alicia hydro project could not move forward, noting that the government had failed to consult with the Mapuche or address the environmental impacts of the project.
In August 2018, Chilean police arrested Curamil for alleged participation in criminal activity. Sources unanimously believe that Curamil was arrested due to his role in stopping the hydroelectric projects. After a sustained local and international campaign, he was finally acquitted of all charges and released in December 2019.